Friday, September 29, 2006

Koto concert


I still haven't had a class today. Soon... soon.

Instead, this morning was a special koto concert. I mentioned that yesterday I watched some of the rehearsal. Well, today was the real thing. It was a nice mid-morning break for myself, along with the local high school, junior high school, and the grade 6 students who will enter junior high next April. And of course, any townsfolk that could attend were also there.

It was an entertaining concert -- five ladies on five koto's. Two standard size, a soprano, an electric bass, and a double length 17 string bass. Yes, I was paying attention.

Good thing too -- I just got asked to put my impressions of the concert in the san-nen sei's weekly newsletter.

Next week it seems will be less busy. I teach Tuesdays and Fridays here at the Junior High, but next Tuesday there are apparently no classes, and next Friday is testing day. Good thing I'll be off to Muroran to help out with an English day at one of the high school's there. More fun than sitting at my desk here. And now I don't feel bad about taking another day off of school -- if the students are writing tests, there's no classes for me to go to ...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Current photo

As requested, here is a current picture of me:

Oh, come on. It's cute!

Be on the lookout!

Yesterday, the two girls I have been having eikaiwa (english conversation) classes with left for a whirlwind tour of Canada. One of them is my former supervisor's daughter, and she is just as nice as her dad. They are both very nice girls and very keen. So keen that they've asked me to continue holding eikaiwa classes with them. I was so flattered to hear that. At least it makes me think I'm doing a good job here. Or at least getting some of my students more comfortable with trying out their English.

So watch out for a couple of Japanese high school girls and their chaperone coming to a Canadian town near you! They're covering most of the coutry -- Vancouver, Banff, Calgary, Toronto and Niagara Falls and a three day homestay in out sister town. All that in only 10 days. Makes me think of my upcoming Christmas trip home...

Monday we had our last class together, and at the end of it they suprised me with thank you gifts. It was so sweet! The week before that they invited me to the cooking club with them for a sample of okonomiyaki -- a Japanese specialty. According to the Junior High textbook we use, it looks like a pizza but tastes different. Really, it's not like a pizza at all aside from the fact that there is flour and toppings involved. But it is tasty.

colder than a...

Blech. Today's weather reminded me of why living in Victoria would occasionally suck ass. Cold and grey and rainy and wet. In a word: gross. It may be time to fire up the heater...

My day started out as less than good -- I was up late (as seems to be my hobby, no doubt because of my other hobby of not going to bed until late) and then was late for work. It was just an office day, but still. There was some teaching at the kindergarten -- pretty good. However, that does mean I miss morning coffee. Yes, morning coffee is an important part of my office day.

I was supposed to accomplish all sorts of things in the afternoon, but between being sleepy and cold and generally unmotivated, not a lot happened. And sometimes that's just the way it is... It did turn out to be a fun afternoon though. The kyouikuchou (superintendent) was apparently cold too, and treated everyone to pizza during afternoon coffee break. Sweet! Pizza *and* coffee. And a pizza delivery joint in my little town! There's a new coffee shop/cafe that I've been meaning to try -- when I have the time. Time: something I always need more of. Turns out they do pizza and deliver. Double sweet!

There is also some kind of cultural event going on at the Board of Education building tomorrow, so there was a rehearsal that I went and watched going on in the auditorium. There were about five koto players, including one woman on a bass koto. It was another nice say to break up an otherwise long day at the office. Or to avoid doing actual work. Same difference. Lovely instrument, and may explain the reason for nice Japanese hotels and restaurants playing music box-style music. It sounds a little like that, especially when you play something originally from a Disney movie.

Cue plinky-plinky style "When you wish upon a star"...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

avast me hearties

Just a reminder to all, that is was and still is for many: INTERNATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY! Yar!

So break out the parrots, the peg-legs and the eye-patches.

Tis time fer drinkin yer best grog and talkin yer best pirate lingo. Yar.

If only every day were talk like a pirate day... yar....

敬老の日・けいろうのひ・keiro no hi ・Respect for the Aged Day

Finally, a long weekend. I was supposed to be off to Lake Toya again for more welcoming parties for the newcomers to this fair isle, but I was still feeling under the weather, and not keen to get worse by heading out for a weekend of not enough sleep and too much partying. Fun, but I need a break.

So I took full advantage. I slept in everyday, I made breakfast, I watched movies, and generally did very little. I did make one excursion to a local-ish onsen in the mountains. It's still a bit early for the colours to have changed, but it was breath-taking nonetheless. I drove into the mountains before I got to my turnoff: a single lane dirt road. Yay! I only had to drive backwards at one point, when I met the shuttle-bus coming down the mountain.

I didn't leave myself a whole lot of time for hiking -- I was really just there for a good boil in the onsen. But I did have enough time to go look at the trailhead and kick myself for not having enough time to hike anywhere. Ah well.

I headed back down to the onsen for some soaking. It was a small place -- it really reminded me of the little ryokan/onsen in Aomori that I stayed at with Francis over Golden Week. It was busy for a place with only a small inside bath and three shower stations: lots of hikers coming down off the mountian and people coming up for the long weekend. I'm sure it will be busier in the coming weeks as the colours change. There were so many people using the showers that the flow of water to the bath inside (coming out of a wooden bear's head no less) was cut off.

Not outside though. The water was incredibly hot, and the view was pretty good. I think the other side had an even better view though. Maybe if the road is still open when I head down for the Fall Meeting I'll see it they've switched sides...

So that was pretty much all I did all weekend. It was extremely relaxing. I highly recommend a weekend off for everyone.

Friday, September 15, 2006

JHS classes

Today after class, my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) remarked that I'm always sick or tired at school.

Well, today at least, that was a fair assessment. I had a massive coughing/sneezing fit while he was explaining today's recitation exam to the students. Part of me almost thinks that it was an allergic reaction to the recitation exam itself. My JTE believes that the rhythm and flow of the language is very important. Which it is, but not so much if all you can do is recite passages from the textbook. Which these students are very good at. They might as well be learning things like "This is a pen." though, for all the good it does them.

They were reciting a passage about daily schedules. "I get up at 6:45. On weekends, I get up at about 9:00. I eat breakfast at 7:00. I go to school at 7:30. I get home at 5:20." And so on. I'm sure I could do it too, after listening to the same thing 30 times. I would have liked to hear about what the students themselves do. And I'd like to think that it would be easier to remember if there was more application to their daily lives.

It's proving to be an interesting and trying year at the Junior High School this year. Maybe that's what it tiring me out, though I'm sure all of the other commitments I have taken on this year aren't helping. But really, I don't feel very helpful in classes where students are honing their rote memorization skills. That's up to the students. In classes like that, a tape recorder is a much more useful tool. And one, I might add, that I am frequently forced to listen to. Ah, the perils of team teaching.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

ugh... still sick

The cold I was rocking in Otaru and Sapporo last weekend just will not die. Probably not helped by me not taking a sick day, and still being to busy after work to catch up on sleep. So, I'm very sad that I won't be going to the Southwestern Hokkaido welcome party at Lake Toya this weekend. A long weekend and everything. Well, I'm sure I can find something exciting to do around home. Sleep in, rack up the long distance bill, study some Japanese for that upcoming exam I'm regretting I signed up to take, sort recycling...


This week I experienced a joy that is unknown outside of the experiences of gaijin living in rural Japan. I came back from work on Wednesday to find that my garbage had been taken away. For those of you living in North America, you can't understand this joy. For you, garbage day is a run of the mill thing -- a standard chore that is boring and tedious, but at least you don't usually have to worry about the shame of having your garbage rejected.

Here, things are a bit different. And it's not even that difficult in my town. My town separates garbage into three major categories. Burnables (燃やせるゴミ, moyaseru gomi), non-burnables (燃やせないゴミ, moyasenai gomi), and recycling. There's a few other categories, like over-size garbage, dangerous garbage (light bulbs, car batteries and thermometers), and maybe some other random things. Like I said, I'm one of the lucky ones. I know of towns, where garbage must be sorted into 13 or 14 different categories. Hard plastic, aluminum, food garbage, etc. And don't try putting the wrong garbage in the bag -- it will be rejected, with a note detailing the problem and left until you re-sort it. I'm thankful every week that all of my garbage is burnable or non-burnable.

So, this week I put out a whole bag of non-burnables. And one box of broken glass, lovingly wrapped in paper and placed in a cardboard box marked 「刃物」 (hamono, sharps). And it all got taken away... absolute bliss.

Recycling -- now that's another matter. I can drop off glass bottles and containers anytime I want, but for everything else: paper, cardboard, cans, PET bottles (known as plastic bottles to the rest of you); I have to wait until the first Sunday of the month, between the hours of 7:30 and 9am to drop off my recycling.

So here I sit, on my ever growing pile of recycling, waiting for the weekend when I will actually be home to get rid of all of it.

But for the moment, I'd just like to bask in the glory of sucessfully getting rid of one bag of non-burnable garbage. It's a good feeling.

Monday, September 11, 2006

I think he's saying "I'm a mother hen"?

Just because it's one of the bestest Kids in the Hall sketches ever...

Happy Monday to everyone.

教育委員会旅行 -- Kyouikuiinkai Ryokou -- BoE Trip

"Don't forget, we will leave at 9:00!"

"That's right -- LEAVE. Don't make us come to your house to get you!"

"Wakarimashita! I understand! Don't worry, I won't be late!"

This was the exchange that took place on Friday afternoon, before I left the BoE for the day. As you may have guessed, I've slipped into my more typical habit of not getting to work on time -- a definite no-no in a Japanese office. It doesn't make a huge difference, seeing as I don't really have a defined role at the Board of Ed., but it does make me look like a bit of an ass. Here's hoping it's balanced out by all the days I stay late...

I was early to the bus on Saturday though, despite feeling like a giant snot-monster.

Note to self: don't get a cold for the weekend of your Board of Education trip.

Good thing we spent most of the day on the bus -- I did my share of sleeping while we drove and everybody else drank. No really. I wasn't joking when I said I'd be offered a beer the moment we left.

Our first stop was to pick up some of our co-workers who live in Asahikawa. Then it was on to a roadside toilet. I only mention this stop because I met a guy living in the smallest village in Hokkaido. His English was great (he told me he learned it naturally -- four years living with a Canadian girlfriend). Even more unusual, he approached me to talk, which is such a rarity it threw me for a loop. Unfortunately, most of what he talked about it was the recent arrest of an area ALT for marijuana possesion. Which is looked at in the same light as heroin trafficking. Well, now I know what the talk at Mid-Year Orientation will be about.

Further notes to self: Be aware that talking to strange boys in public will make your BOE assume you are now dating and will shortly be getting married.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, or at least I was able to sleep the rest of the way. For those who know me, you know I generally can't sleep in a moving vehicle. Yes, I was actually that tired.

We eventually made it to Otaru. Just in time for lunch. Not knowing much about Otaru other than they are famous for glass-making, canals and sushi, I was hoping for some good sushi. And I was lucky. One of the older guys in the office claimed to know the best sushi restaurant in Otaru, so we hopped in a cab and left the tourist district for a little hole in the wall sushi place. It was amazing! Expensive by Hokkaido standards -- my 11-piece set was around 3000 yen -- but worth every yenny. I was glad I had popped an illegal Sudafed tablet that morning so I could actually taste it. And then I was surprised to have lunch paid for by the gentleman who had brought us to the restaurant. It was amazing. He was also friends with the owners, so I think he was happy to show off his knowledge (and maybe show off his gaijin handling skills). Afterwards, seeing as it was my first time to Otaru, we walked down to the canals. Pretty, but they have better ones in Europe. I would have liked to stop at the Otaru beer factory, but of course on a bus tour, there was no time for that. Besides, I wasn't drinking becuase I was sick.

Our next stop was Sapporo. We had a few hours before the enkai, which I used for sleeping. The enkai itself was fun. The food was pretty good, and I like hanging out with my BoE people. They may not speak English, but they try. Nomunication is always a good thing.

At some point the superintendent bought a special dish for me in this latest round of "what will the foreigner eat?". I was presented with a live squid -- only it had just been sliced into sashimi! I have to say, it was some of the tastiest squid I have ever tasted -- moving tentacles, firing chromatophores and all. Even the gonads were tasty. Yes, I will admit it was a bit freaky to be eating something that was still moving. But I guess it doesn't get any fresher... I wonder if my BoE is dissappointed that I like Japanese food so much? I think it's funny that they continually forget that I love sashimi. I know part of it is a way to make conversation with limited conversation skills.

The nijikai was at the same place as last year -- some dancing/comedy show. This year, I could even understand some of the jokes, but I don't think it was as good as last year. I wasn't alone in my thinking either.

I headed back to the hotel after the nijikai, where we ate カレーまん (steamed dumplings filled with curry), and pizza. I was so tired afterwards!

The next day, it was back on the bus. We stopped at the omiyage-Emporium so people could buy gifts. I had ice cream -- the best soft cream (soft serve) in all of Hokkaido. Then it was all you can eat and drink at a Ginghis-Khan Restarant. Ginghis-Khan is marinated lamb that you grill on a mongolian-hat-shaped grill. It's another "Hokkaido-specialty". We all ate and drank (or were forced to eat and drink -- some of the guys had to finish all of the food -- it was pretty funny actually. They would get up to go to the bathroom or something and when they came back, someone had added an extra bowlful of rice to their plates) until we were stuffed.

Then it was back on the bus for the drive home. We got back pretty early (thankfully), so I spent the rest of the day doing nothing and concentrating on feeling better.

Today I'm still a snot-monster, but I feel vaguely human. Maybe one more good night of sleep and I'll be all better. One can only hope...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Cruisin' with the BOE

This weekend (actually, in about an hour) I'm off to spend the weekend on a bus with my Board of Ed. co-workers. It would be a lot more fun if I didn't feel like a snot monster had taken up residence in my face. I feel awful this morning. I had hoped an early bed time would make me feel better, but that assumed I would be able to sleep at all. Which I didn't. So I don't.


Maybe a bus tour will make me better?

Have a healthy weekend everyone!

Monday, September 04, 2006

stung, sunburnt and sleepy

In my ever-enjoyable quest for Hokkaido domination (today Hokkaido, tomorrow the world!) I set out this past weekend for the HAJET sponsored Northern Regional Welcome Party. This year, the party was held in Shosanbetsu, a small village on the coast between Rumoi and Wakkanai.

After watching my town's Junior High schoolers show off their singing, speech-making and general craziness at their school festival, I headed off in my little tractor-mobile for the coast. I even managed to make it sound like I had to leave early for official business. Well, I did manage to sell a few books so I guess it was business. Yeah, that's the ticket!

Me and Dierdre drove north through crow-town and -41.8C town. I love that Hokkaido towns are all famous for something, even if it's for being really cold and having a lot of crows. Shosanbetsu is the town of stars -- they must have an observatory, but I didn't see it. Although it was pretty well in the middle of nowhere, so I'm sure the star-gazing is great.

I didn't get in until after dark and the party was already well under way. I tucked into what was left of the yakiniku and yakisoba and cracked a bottle of wine. It was really good to spend a night next to the ocean and meet up with old friends and meet some of the new people. I've been down in the dumps for a bit here feeling isolated and sorry for myself, but it seems that getting out, seeing people and dipping my toes in the ocean was what I needed.

At some point there was an ocean swim, complete with bioluminecense (yay!) and jellyfish stings (boo!). Aw shucks, it was just like Bamfield. Well, as much as a concrete beach in Japan can be like Bamfield. Which isn't really a lot at all.

The next day we piled our cars with people and garbage and said our goodbyes. I enjoyed being in the sun and burnt the crap out of my back. Yes, I put on the sunblock, just not in the middle of my back where I needed it. I drove back with a couple of girls from my area and showed them the joys of Asahikawa's foreign foods store and our very own American-style shopping mall. Not my favorite place to hang out, but a necessity for things like cheese and pickles.

I eventually made it back home where I watched "Tonari no totoro"/"My neighbor Totoro" and passed out by 9:30. Getting up this morning for high school was a challenge, even with all that sleep.

There are three more welcome parties scheduled, and I will be trying to make it to most of them. This weekend I have a Board of Education trip though, so instead of drinking in the middle of nowhere with JETs, I'll be drinking on a bus with my co-workers. You think I'm joking, but I'm sure the minute we leave town at 9:00 on Saturday, there will be beer and snacks being passed around. And that's why Japanese people like to go on bus tours.

Unfotunately, that means I'll be missing the super fun Eastern party at Lake Kusharo. But there will be fun at Toya-ko the week after and Shikotsu-ko the week after that. One of those is even a long weekend. Much fun will probably be had, and many more kilometers put on my car.

Oh, my poor liver is all I can say...